A reaction to a film is often severely based on timing. If the viewer isn’t in the right headspace when they watch a film, it is possible to get a lackluster reaction to a story that otherwise may have worked. On a peaceful Florida winter morning (it was 45 degrees outside) I chose my film viewing carefully. I knew what kind of movie I wanted, and I took a chance on Brett Haley’s “The Hero” (2017). It is a quiet, contemplative movie that is a showcase for Sam Elliott, and I loved every introspective minute.
The Hero is an excellent vehicle for Sam Elliott’s talent
Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is an aging actor who peaked early in his career. With time against him and a diagnosis of cancer, the weight of his life hits him hard. A simple scene of Hayden reading the tagline of a barbeque sauce commercial multiple times in the same manner yet being prompted to say it “one more time” really helps accentuate his unhappiness with his career. He notes that he’s worked steady and hard, but has only one movie which he was every truly proud of called “The Hero”.
In the wake of the bad news from his doctors, Hayden chooses to keep his worries internal. It really emphasizes how lonely he feels, and exemplifies the tough exterior of a cowboy that Elliott brings to the role. He doesn’t wish to burden his friends or family with his worries and clearly doesn’t feel he deserves their support. That is especially true with the slight cliché, although no less true, strained relationship with his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He clearly wants to reach out to her but doesn’t feel he deserves her compassion.
This film could easily be a downer and simply allow it’s character to wallow in self-pity. However, Hayden is a pot smoker, and both this habit and his dealer/friend, Jeremy Frost (Nick Offerman), adds a little levity. The significant line of hope in this story is Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a woman not much older than his daughter who he finds himself in a relationship with after a chance meeting at Jeremy’s house. It’s possibly the way she sees him and reaches out to him that gives him the lifeline he needs to make decisions about the news he’s received.
Visually, this film is gorgeous, with lots of beach vistas and the occasional desert scene. The cast performs wonderfully, and Elliott shines. His character is empathetic and far from perfect, but he takes responsibility for his shortcomings. The Hero earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.